The US Senate on Monday passed an omnibus competitiveness bill that includes provisions to enhance military, cultural and diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but obstacles remain in having the bill enacted into law.
The Senate approved the America COMPETES Act by a 68-28 margin after the House of Representatives passed an act of the same name by a 222-210 vote on Feb. 4.
However, the bill approved by the Senate replaced the original content of the America COMPETES Act with that of the US Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), which the senate passed on June 8 last year.
Both bills are aimed at increasing the competitiveness of the US — in particular against China — with a significant emphasis on boosting scientific and engineering innovation, research and development, and production of advanced electronic components in the US.
There was considerable overlap between the USICA and the original contents of the America COMPETES Act, including on regional strategies to counter China.
However, substantive differences also exist in several areas, including economic diplomacy, strategic and diplomatic matters, and multilateral strategies to bolster US power.
The House is not expected to agree to the latest version approved by the Senate, meaning that the two bodies will have to negotiate a reconciliation of the bills they passed into a final version that can get 60 votes in the Senate and pass a divided House.
With respect to Taiwan, both bills generally reiterate US support for Taiwan, recognizing Taiwan as a “vital part” of the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy and a vital national security interest of the US.
They require the US to reinforce its commitments to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act and the “six assurances,” and conduct regular transfers of “defense articles” to enhance Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities, in particular its efforts to develop and integrate asymmetric capabilities.
They both call on the US secretary of state to consider establishing a US-Taiwan cultural exchange foundation “dedicated to deepening ties between the future leaders of Taiwan and the United States,” and contain lengthy provisions on a Taiwan fellowship program to allow government officials to go to Taiwan for two years to learn Chinese.
However, there are key differences.
The House-backed bill calls for negotiations on renaming Taiwan’s representative office in the US — the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office — while the Senate version does not.
It also includes a Taiwan Peace and Stability Act, which focuses specifically on enhancing deterrence measures in the Taiwan Strait, and a Taiwan International Solidarity Act that are not found in the Senate bill.
The Senate bill does call for ending the practice of referring to Taiwan’s government as the “Taiwan authorities” and for ending restrictions on officials of the two sides to interact directly with each other or on Taiwan to display symbols of the Republic of China’s sovereignty.
However, it says these appeals should not be “construed as entailing restoration of diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) or altering the United States Government’s position on Taiwan’s international status.”
No similar disclaimer is found in the House bill.
In another key area of the bills, involving incentives for the production of semiconductors in the US, the two bills offer similar language, but the House bill has been described as more aggressive in creating a new Supply Chain Resilience Program.
Overseas suppliers, such as Taiwan semiconductor giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, have lobbied for foreign manufacturers to benefit from the measure, but it was not immediately clear if the two bills differed on this point.
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